Review - The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later: understanding, acceptance, tolerance and hope
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later
By Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project
Directed By Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven
A Theatre Travels Production
The Seymour Centre
Cnr of City Road and Cleveland Street
Season: 28 November – 8 December. www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-laramie-project or 02 9351 7940
Forty years after the town shot to fame via a black and white TV series of the same name, Laramie is famous again. But for a very different and sad reason: the infamous hate-based murder of student Matthew Shepard in 1998.
To appreciate The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, a short background briefing will help. Matthew was a 21-year-old student who accepted a lift home one night from a bar in Laramie, Wyoming from two fellows. They drove into the prairies, tied him to a fence and pistol-whipped him to near death in freezing temperatures. Still alive but unconscious a day later, he then spent 5 days on life support in hospital before passing away.
The murder and subsequent trial made world headlines as the prosecution made the case that the crime was ‘hate’-inspired because Matthew was homosexual. The case was the catalyst for hate-crime legislation throughout the United States culminating in the ‘Matthew Shepard Act’ enacted by Barack Obama in 2009.
In the original prequel The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project sourced their material by visiting Laramie and conducting interviews with those closely involved in the arrest and trial of Matthew’s murderers. They also spoke with family members and townsfolk, as well as newspaper reports from the local ‘Laramie Daily Boomerang’.
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is a revisit to this small town to see how it and its people may have changed, if at all, a decade after the nation-changing event.
This play is presented as a series of moments, whereby the actors play numerous real-life characters using actual documented statements and interviews. Most of the actors are on stage all the time and are often introduced by a Narrator. They come forward when it’s their turn to speak and lighting is utilised to highlight key statements.
Set changes are minor and are done by moving chairs around or rearranging boxes that the actors sit or stand upon. Actors can also blend into new characters via on-stage costume changes.
The pace of the show is quick, and the audience needs to concentrate to take it all in. There are nine actors but countless characters ranging from a Catholic Priest and Baptist Minister to Police Detective and Matthew’s mother. Interviews are re-enacted using a handheld microcassette recorder. An unsettling scene involves the prison interview with cold-hearted murderer Aaron McKinney.
Directors Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven have used a mostly youthful cast to portray attitudes in Laramie, 10 years later. We learn that prejudices still exist, however compassion and understanding towards alternative lifestyles is more prevalent. Actors play cross-gender characters which, whilst admirable given the intent and context of the play, are at times distract from the serious message each real-life character is trying to send.
All actors have performed well in adapting to multiple characters and have mastered the mid-western American accents. Praise to cast members John Michael Burdon, Laura Djanegara, Andrew Hofman, Francisco Lopez, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Matthew Pritchard, Dominique Purdue, Emily Richardson and Charlotte Tilelli.
This production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later has successfully shown the disappointments and promises that small towns demonstrate. It is an education in understanding, acceptance, tolerance and hope.